Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Wednesday that the Israel police will look into the purchase of German submarines, after it was revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorney David Shimron had represented the German ThyssonKrupp corporation, raising concerns over a possible conflict of interest. The deal cost $1.5 billion.
Suspicions of impropriety were heightened when former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said he was sidelined on the purchase plans, which went forward after he was replaced earlier this year.
Channel 10 reported this week that Netanyahu had personally intervened in the awarding of the contract. Netanyahu denied the report, and said he was only made aware of Shimron's connection to the firm in recent days.
The Justice Ministry issued the following statement in light of the investigation: “The attorney general conducted further consultation meetings regarding the submarine deal, which included the state attorney and other officials from the Justice Ministry, as well as the head of the Israel Police Investigation and Intelligence Department.”
The statement explained that the consultations focused on “new information received by the police today, as well as other developments on the matter. At the end of the discussion, the attorney general decided to instruct the government to conduct an investigation led by the Israel Police on the different aspects of the affair.”
Eli Shaked, who is representing Shimron in the matter, issued a statement on behalf of his client following the attorney general’s call to investigate the case. “I congratulate the attorney general’s decision to open an investigation. I am certain that after things are examined by an objective and professional authority, it will become clear, once and for all, that my actions were without reproach, and that everything was done in accordance to the law and to settle any conflict of interest. It goes without saying that I will fully cooperate with the investigation authorities.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Knesset rejected a motion petitioned by the opposition to set up a parliamentary investigation committee in the matter of the German submarine deal. It was presented by MKs Stav Shafir from the Zionist Union and Michal Rozin from Meretz.
The deal struck with ThyssonKrupp stipulates that the submarines’ maintenance will be outsourced to Germany, which would effectively prevent local, IDF civilian workers from maintaining the vessels—as well as being paid for said work. On Tuesday, it was reported that Shimron had made it clear to the representatives of the IDF civilian workers that the deal had been decided upon in advance by the Defense Ministry.
Supporting these claims are reports of an email sent in 2014 by Ahaz Ben-Ari, who at the time was the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser, to Dan Harel, who was the Defense Ministry’s director. In the email, Ben-Ari mentions receiving a phone call from Shimron. “I got a call from attorney David Shimron, who represents the ThyssonKrupp corporation, wanting to know whether we were halting the tender for the deal in to order to begin negotiations with his clients, as per the prime minister’s request.”
The problem with such a scenario is that the tender was reportedly looking to purchase marine vessels to protect the recently discovered gas reserves at the lowest cost, while ThyssonKrupp was looking to be granted the deal without a bidding war. As allegations of a conflict of interest began to emerge earlier this month, Shimron claimed he had never discussed the deal with any government official.
Shimron’s lawyer responded specifically to reports of Ben-Ari’s email account of receiving a call from Shimron. “I never told Ben-Ari anything regarding the prime minister. I also didn’t know anything regarding the prime minister’s request, of which I am hearing about only now, from the media, in addition to the connection that Ben-Ari had made between the two. The only possible explanation for this email, presuming it has been accurately quoted, is that Ben-Ari knew about the prime minister’s request, while I had no idea of it. I had no idea of the prime minister’s involvement in the ships. Any other interpretation bears no relevance to the truth.”
The three submarines are due to replace aging vessels and will be delivered in about 10 years. They are widely believed to be capable of carrying missiles with nuclear warheads and serve as a second-strike deterrent against Iran, should it ever build atomic weapons.